August Wilson African American cultural center presents Tim Okamura’s “Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light” exhibition

Explore the captivating exhibition Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light at AWAACC, featuring the powerful and visually stunning works of artist Tim Okamura in his first major institutional solo showcase, on view November 9th, 2023–February 18th, 2024.

August 1, 2023 (Pittsburgh, PA) The August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AWAACC) is thrilled to announce the highly anticipated exhibition, Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light, featuring the captivating works of Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Tim Okamura. Curated by Karla Ferguson of Miami's Yeelen Group, this exhibition marks Okamura's first major institutional solo exhibition and promises to captivate audiences with its series of large-scale works, paintings, and installations. It is a great honor for me to be curating this compelling visual storytelling that bridges several cultures with a common mission to positively impact society and inspire the everyday warriors amongst us to continue the fight against oppression as well as those that would like to join; we are strong when we are united," said Karla Ferguson, curator.

Tim Okamura's Onna Bugeisha: Warriors of Light emanates a sense of power, pride, and beauty that draw from a rich multicultural visual language,” said Kimberly Jacobs, Assistant Curator at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. “We are honored to present Okamura's largest solo exhibition In the US to our community."


Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light is a new artistic endeavor in which Tim Okamura imagines an alternate reality - a society that closely mirrors our own, which was once liberated and equitable, but is now experiencing a rapid descent into a state of oppression due to the rise in power of an authoritarian regime. It is under these conditions, in a shift towards a riotous dystopia, that an astounding development has occurred: the sudden appearance of a clandestine group of women warriors – freedom fighters guided by the Bushido, or Code of the Samurai - sworn to battle back the forces of persecution and injustice at all costs.

Naming themselves the Onna-Bugeisha, the Japanese term for female Samurai, they are a noble company of mystical soldiers, champions of virtue, disciples of ancient wisdom, and protectors of morality and the common good. They are masters of the martial arts, wielding their “Weapons of Truth” with precision and devastating power only in the most severe circumstances, when diplomacy has failed. When called to action the Onna-Bugeisha fight with honor, discipline, and great courage. They defend the defenseless, bring hope to the hopeless, and persevere no matter how extreme or perilous the conditions or how great the self-sacrifice. The Onna-Bugeisha are driven by the pursuit of their ultimate goal - to end the rule of tyranny and spark the transformative fire that will lead to a revolution of consciousness and the triumph of love and altruism. They are also known by another name: The Warriors of Light.

“As a samurai, I must strengthen my character; as a human being I must perfect my spirit.” – Yamaoka Tesshu

The lore surrounding the Onna-Bugeisha continues to evolve – although some plausible origin theories have been put been forth, most details surrounding their emergence remain shrouded in mystery. Members of this band of fearsome warriors will only divulge that their formation was “born out of necessity”, heeding the clarion call for justice, galvanized by the universal laws of Inspired Action and Divine Oneness. Despite a lack of information surrounding their recruitment, elite training, covert means of communication and underground operational bases, there is one common consensus - the Warriors of Light always materialize during the most desperate situations. It is in the darkest hour they appear from the shadows, charging headlong into battle, bringing salvation.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu

Although the Onna-Bugeisha have suffered many grievous losses of illustrious heroes from within their ranks, it has not been in vain - each who has fallen has been crucial in advancing the greater cause. Considerable optimism fuels the fight as the Onna-Bugeisha sense victory is indeed possible against the extremist forces that conspire to crush freedom of choice, deny women’s rights, destroy democratic institutions, and persecute and punish those that want to live uniquely and love authentically. Without fail, the Onna-Bugeisha hold fast their vow to serve as irrepressible enemies of despotism and embrace their role as the antidote to those who crave to disseminate the poisons of prejudice, racism and bigotry. Though each of these guardians is individually formidable, it is through harnessing the overwhelming power of Unity in Diversity that that they find their greatest strength. Ultimately, theirs is a mission ofenlightenment, equality, and inclusion which will be accomplished through the Way of the Samurai.

"Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is victory over those seeking your oppression. A warrior is worthless unless she rises above the flailing masses and stands strong in the midst of a storm.”
– Onna-Bugeisha maxim, adapted from an original quote by Tsunetomo Yamamoto

Following this narrative, Tim Okamura positions himself as the artist given the honor of being allowed behind the veil of secrecy, in order to the document the heroes, their exploit and accomplishments and the growing legend of the wondrous Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light.


“I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity to debut my new series Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. I was inspired to explore a story of BIPOC women as a band of Samurai warriors as a reaction to learning of the story of Yasuke, acknowledged as the first Black Samurai, as well as Tomoe Gozen, a legendary female Samurai from feudal Japan. It brought about the idea of bringing to life female Samurai in a contemporary setting. Other influences came from the Jim Jarmusch film ‘Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai’, Akira Kurusawa’s ‘Ran’, Haruki Kadokawa’s “Heaven and Earth’ – a film I was in, as a Samurai extra – and yes, even ‘Kill Bill’. Importantly, I also feel that this series gives me a chance to take the next step in investigating individual and cultural identity. My hope is that it works on multiple levels. I’m exploring uncharted territory through this narrative in combining my passion for representation, most often focused on African American women, and historical aspects – even tropes - of my own identity and Japanese Canadian heritage. It’s likely that the inherent juxtaposition that will draw attention to questions encompassing observing, honoring, and experiencing an exchange of cultures. Usually, it is the contrast that registers first but upon deeper contemplation I love those breakthrough moments when we see similarities in aesthetics and the commonalities of our perception and human experience shine through with the brightest light. I’m continuing to process different aspects of what the Onna-Bugeisha:Warriors of Light series means, it’s certainly meant to provoke thought about equality, race, and gender and human dignity - but there is also a specific built-in comment on the oppression of women in Japanese society, a condition which still exists today. I wanted to address that by taking the stereotype of the traditional Samurai and flip it on its head. It’s not my intention to openly cause offense or create controversy but I think sometimes as artists we must accept the role of provocateur, particularly if may lead to meaningful thought that affects change. The Warriors of Light are obviously metaphors as well, representing the warriors for social justice in our society. I wanted to celebrate, in a symbolic way, individuals who, despite adversity, continue to fight tooth and nail for fairness, equality, and human dignity. Their stories are imbued in these paintings also, as a testament to the power of the human spirit, and my aim is to honor their efforts and raise awareness through my art. I’ve always championed women in my work, but these paintings are overtly images of champions, of heroes."

Onna Bugeisha: Warriors of Light promises to ignite conversations and inspire viewers with its powerful imagery. The August Wilson African American Cultural Center remains committed to showcasing diverse and influential artistic voices that reflect and celebrate the African American experience. The November 9 th opening of the exhibition offers an unprecedented opportunity for art lovers, critics, and collectors to experience Okamura's compelling new series which underscores his commitment to leveraging art to bridge cultural gaps, challenge preconceptions, and inspire social change. This collection invites viewers to not just observe, but to engage, reflect, and participate in the conversation.

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Born in Edmonton, Canada, Tim Okamura began his artistic journey at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, where he earned his B.F.A. with Distinction. He further honed his skills at the School of Visual Arts in New York, graduating with an M.F.A. in Illustration as Visual Journalism in 1993.
Okamura is an internationally acclaimed artist celebrated for his unique style that combines traditional oil painting techniques with mixed media and elements of abstraction filtered through a contemporary urban perspective. His work focuses on themes of identity, resilience, representation, and community, and has been exhibited around the globe, earning a place in numerous museums and prestigious private collections.
Tim Okamura's immense talent has garnered him numerous prestigious awards and recognition. He received the Fellowship in Painting from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2004 and has been selected nine times for the esteemed BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. His artistry has also been displayed in several permanent public collections, including The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, The New York Historical Society Museum, The Davis Museum at Wellesley College, The Alberta Foundation for the Arts, The Toronto Congress Center, and Standard Chartered Bank in London, England.


Karla Ferguson is the Founder/CEO and Principal Advisor of the Yeelen Group, and an award-winning contemporary art dealer, art collector, creative producer/designer, and attorney. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and educated at Florida International University (Political Science and International Relations), the Sorbonne (International Business Transactions), and Tulane University School of Law (Business Law and Civil Rights) – she has created structured financing for the production and curation of ground breaking contemporary art exhibitions and works with the best contemporary artists focusing on social practice and expanding the understanding of culture, globally, and its relation to art history. Karla has built and curated (via acquisitions and deaccessions) the collections of prominent CEOs, numerous corporate clients, real estate development, entrepreneurs and newcomers to art collecting. Karla’s decades of experience in the industry allows her to apply her knowledge and creativity to each project, empowering her clients, elevating their collections and raising the values of their portfolios, while helping them make personal contributions to a critical dialogue taking place in contemporary art practice. Karla and her projects have been featured extensively in national and international publications including: The New York Times, The Huffington Post, NBC, ELLE Magazine, VOGUE, Wallpaper Magazine, Luxe Interiors and Design, Blouin ArtINFO, Vice, BBC International, and more.


The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural center located in Pittsburgh’s cultural district that generates artistic, educational, and community initiatives that advance the legacy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. One of the largest cultural centers in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the celebration of Black culture and the African diaspora, the non-profit organization welcomes more than 119,000 visitors locally and nationally. Through year-round programming across multiple genres, such as the annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Black Bottom Film Festival, AWCommunity Days, TRUTHSayers speaker series, and rotating art exhibits in its galleries, the Center provides a platform for established and emerging artists of color whose work reflects the universal issues of identity that Wilson tackled, and which still resonate today.

November 9, 2023 – February 18, 2024
Opening Nov 9th 7pm-9pm
Curated by Karla Ferguson

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